Now that a new law in Maine has gone into effect, giving sexual abuse victims a chance to seek justice even if the statute of limitations had previously kept them out of courts, three men have filed lawsuits against the Catholic Church.
The Maine law now allows victims of childhood sexual abuse to file a civil claim against their perpetrators, regardless of when the attack(s) occurred. A previous law from 2000 had eliminated the statute of limitations already, but it wasn’t retroactive, so abuse that occurred prior to 1987 couldn’t lead to charges. That’s relevant because many children who were abused by Catholic priests before that time, like so many other victims, don’t necessarily realize the impact of what they went through until much later in life. By the time they realize they were victims, it might be too late to sue their attackers. The new law is an attempt to rectify that.
The Catholic Church may pay the biggest price for it. Representatives of the Diocese of Portland had tried blocking the legislation, saying “the statute of limitations was already wide in Maine and the legal process could be burdened by older claims,” but they were thankfully ignored.
And now three men have sued the Church for what they suffered when they were younger.
In one of the new lawsuits, Robert Dupuis, who first shared his story in 2007, said he was abused on multiple occasions by priest John Curran in 1961, when Dupuis was a 12-year-old working part time at St. Joseph Church in Old Town in Penobscot County…
“There are many survivors like myself who were abused in childhood by the clergy,” Dupuis said. “It’s time for the church to stop minimizing the effects of sexual abuse on its victims and take full accountability for their negligence and malice.”
Curran died in 1976, but the lawsuit was filed against the Bishop of Portland. The two other lawsuits were filed by people who didn’t want to be named in public.
Whether the lawsuits will succeed remains to be seen, but in all the states where the statute of limitations was lifted, two things have been very clear: The Catholic Church has opposed the law, and the Catholic Church has been sued by numerous people even though the laws never singling out that institution specifically.
In 2019, the Associated Press even said that over 5,000 lawsuits had been filed in states were similar laws were enacted, and the final bill for the Catholic Church, after it inevitably settled many of the cases, could be well over $4 billion.
Keep in mind that many of the victims were afraid to speak out until relatively recently. It was only after the Church’s sex abuse problems were exposed, and after the Pennsylvania grand jury report came out in 2018, and after these laws were enacted to put power back into the hands of victims that a semblance of justice was even an option.
If it leads to more of these dioceses to go bankrupt, no one who cares about the victims is going to shed a tear. The Church has enough property and stashed artwork to sell to cover the costs of the trauma they’ve inflicted upon victims. It’s long past time for them to face justice.
It’ll take several months for the new lawsuits in Maine to be resolved. But let’s hope these are the first of many as more victims get the courage to fight back against their abusers.